Internet Addiction – Modern Social Issues

We live in a world of addictions. In fact, looking back through history may suggest that the availability of addictive substances and behaviours is greater now than ever before. People are addicted to everything from alcohol to prescription medications to compulsive behaviours such as gambling and sex. People can even be addicted to the internet.

The NHS defines addiction as “not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it can be harmful to you.” This definition clearly illustrates how cocaine use can become addictive. Cocaine is a nasty drug that affects both the mind and body to the point of causing significant harm. It also can affect the brain to the extent that the drug controls behaviour rather than the individual controlling drug use.

But what about internet use? Can it have the same kind of harmful effects?

There is some debate over whether compulsive internet usage constitutes addiction. But even within that debate, most psychiatrists and addiction experts recognise that people engage in internet use compulsively. The two areas where this is most common are social media use and online role-playing games.

There are plenty of stories of individuals who become socially dysfunctional because they spend almost all of their time on the internet. Whether you use the term ‘addicted’ or not, it is clear that online behaviour controls their lives. This is very harmful on a psychological and emotional level. It can be harmful physically as well if the internet user neglects hygiene, diet, and so on.

Signs of Internet Addiction

We are of a mind that internet addiction is every bit as real and harmful as substance addictions. We have seen for ourselves how harmful compulsive use of online resources can be. We have also learned that there are definite signs you can look for to identify an internet addiction in yourself or others.

The most visible signs of internet addiction are as follows:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time online doing tasks that are non-work related
  • Unreasonable anxiety or irritation when internet connections are slow
  • Corresponding anxiety or irritation when internet use is blocked or otherwise unavailable
  • Increasing social isolation in favour of spending time online
  • Poor work or school performance as a result of spending too much time online
  • Increasing anxiety and unexplainable mood swings
  • Lack of interest in relationships, especially marriage and sexual.

One of the most interesting aspects of internet addiction is that it can take several forms. One person might be addicted solely to social media while another person splits time between social media and pornography sites. Another internet addict may be connected to reading news or following sports. Such variations are what make treating internet addiction so challenging.

How Internet Addiction Is Treated

Because the science behind internet addiction is relatively new, treatment providers do not have a lot to go on other than the knowledge gleaned from other types of addictive behaviour. Right now, we rely heavily on the experience we already have with gambling and sex addictions, given that compulsive behaviours tend to share a lot of similarities. The first step in treating internet addiction is, therefore, identifying the problem exists.

It is generally accepted that a person whose online time is so excessive that it interferes with what is considered normal social functioning is someone who at least needs to be evaluated. The person on the road to internet addiction is someone who will prefer online activity over most other things. He or she will lose interest in other hobbies; social interaction will be put on the back burner; there will be little desire to get out of the house and do things.

In its most severe form, internet addiction results in the same types of scenarios we see with other behavioural and substance addictions: the addictive behaviour takes over as the primary controlling factor in a person’s life. Most decisions are made based on using the internet; going online determines the course of the addict’s day; if the addict has to choose between getting online or doing something else, the internet usually wins.

Should internet addiction be diagnosed by a specialist, treatment typically follows a pretty reliable course:

  • Reducing Time Online – Just like the heroin user needs to stop taking heroin, the internet addict needs to cut down on the amount of time spent online. In this sense, the goal of abstinence is the same. Some people prefer to stop using the internet cold turkey while others favour a more gradual reduction.
  • Counselling – Internet addicts undergo the same types of counselling utilised for alcoholism or drug addiction. The most effective form of counselling in this regard is known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy was originally developed to help people struggling with depression and other mental illnesses; it has proven rather successful as an addiction treatment as well.
  • Group Support – Internet addicts generally find group support to be very helpful. Group support provides mutual accountability, which is as important in internet addiction as in any other addiction. Group members rely on one another to hold them accountable and help carry them through the difficult times.
  • Coping Strategies – Developing coping strategies is critical to treating internet addicts. Unlike those recovering from alcohol or drugs, the internet is not a tangible thing that can simply be cut off. The internet is all around us, touching almost everything we do. Therefore, the recovering addict needs to learn coping strategies to be able to live in the digital world without returning to compulsive behaviour.

Internet addiction is a very real problem, irrespective of whether some of the symptoms and results of the condition meet the same clinical terms as other types of compulsive behaviours. It ruins relationships, drives spouses and partners away, jeopardises financial stability, and alters cognitive function. We urge you to contact UKAT right away if you or someone you love seems to be addicted to the internet.

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